Providing Wildlife Habitat Without Planting
Wildlife and the Outdoors
Providing Wildlife Habitat Without Planting
Frank Allen, Area Wildlife Biologist
Hunters and land managers often fall into the trap of providing for wildlife by planting only cool season food plots. These wildlife openings assist managers in reaching harvest objectives and they provide forage for deer, rabbits, and turkeys. There are, however, many useful management techniques that are more beneficial and sometimes less expensive than farming.
Instead of planting every opening on your land, try managing some of them as old fields by prescribed burning, disking, fertilizing, or combinations of these techniques. Burning kills undesirable hardwood competition and promotes legume germination, which is important for quail, deer, and turkeys. There is also a massive nutrient release into the soil following fire that makes the vegetation more fertile. Native plants such as ragweed, partridge peas, pokeberry, annual lespedezas, milk pea, butterfly pea, and beggar-ticks often grow in response to burning. Prescribed burning is a valuable tool for wildlife managers, but areas should be burned on rotating basis. In other words, do not burn the same area year after year. Try burning in early April rather than in winter one year, and then wait two years before burning again. Monitor the plant composition to determine which burns have the best results.
Disking openings in October or November also stimulates growth of desirable plants the following growing season. These areas will provide excellent brood rearing habitat for quail and turkeys, which is a critical habitat requirement that is commonly missing across the landscape. Desmodiums, ragweed, and partridge peas are encouraged by this practice. These fields also attract insects for chicks and poults and will provide seed for food later in the year. Fertilizing these areas with 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 after germination will only make them better.
Woodland disking is another way to provide improved habitat and food for a variety of wildlife. If you have open pine stands that will allow tractor work, try disking strips throughout the stand in the fall to promote native plant growth. Fertilize a few of these strips with 13-13-13 and observe the difference between the fertilized and unfertilized strips, and the areas that were not disked. The amount of browse and plant compositions will vary greatly. This is an excellent way to provide deer with low-cost nutritious food during the time of year when they need it the most for antler growth.
Thinning pine stands is another excellent method of providing wildlife habitat while promoting timber growth as well. Once the canopy of a pine plantation closes, there is little benefit for wildlife and the growth rate of the trees decrease. Dense stands allow a perfect place for pine beetles to flourish. Thinning stands opens the canopy allowing sunlight to reach for the forest floor. Sunlight stimulates herbaceous plant growth that many wildlife species prefer. The growth rate of the trees will increase and the timber stand will be less of a magnet for pine beetles. Once a stand is opened, it must be managed with herbicide or burning to prevent the understory from being dominated by undesirable hardwood species.
Fertilizing plum thickets, honeysuckle patches, acorn-producing trees, and woodlands is another way to provide food and habitat without farming. Deer can benefit from fertilized honeysuckle patches because the protein content of the browse is increased. Many wildlife species benefit from soft mast trees and acorn trees after they are fertilized because production rates increase. Another easy way to provide more food and better quality habitat is to simply fertilize native vegetation already growing on your land. Broadcast 13-13-13 throughout an open timber stand in May or June and observe the difference in plant growth between fertilized areas and those that were left untreated.
There is nothing wrong with planting cool season food plots to attract wildlife. However, these other simple and relatively inexpensive practices will benefit wildlife. Including them in your land management can pay big dividends.
For more information, contact Frank Allen, Area Biologist, at 188 Christa Drive, Midway, AL, 36053.